Sunday, February 25, 2007

165 Kilometers to Kankan

The passenger behind me slumps forward, her folded forearm sticking me between the shoulder blades. I shove back hoping she will move. She doesn’t. Someone’s hipbone is jutting into my right leg, which is asleep, and the exposed window nob is sticking me in the lower back. I try to listen for malinke words I know in the pop songs so I won’t drive my elbows into the passengers beside me and start ranting about consumer rights and accountability and cars that open from the inside and out.

I glance down at my rumpled Economist from August. A Chinese telecom’s lawsuit for patent infringement was to be decided last month. I have no idea what happened. I turn the page and fix my eyes on the road as we slow for a pothole. The passenger beside me peers at it, a block of text beside a picture of a businessman stepping gingerly on banana peels. It’s an ad for pension plans, but the notion of retirement strikes me as impossible to explain.

Amasa”, I say instead, the word for banana, pointing at the peels. The man nods, and smiles.

“Are there bananas in Europe?” he asks.

“I am from America, that’s not in Europe. I’ve never been to Europe,” I lie to make the point clear for the millionth time. He nods.

“Are there bananas in America?”

“Yes, but they’re not as good.”

He smiles, and offers me peanuts.

A cold trickle of sweat runs down my calf from behind my knees, to where my feet incinerate against the rusted tin shell covering the motor. I motion for the driver to hand me the window handle. He passes it back, and then reaches across the boy crammed into his seat to downshift. Aroused by the loss of speed, a few passengers glance out the window at the cow standing motionless in the road.

Now the wind blusters in loudly through the window. I fold up the Economist, ripping a few of the pages. Craining to glimpse myself in the rear view mirror--which is adorned with a pealing image of Madonna from her “like a prayer” album--I adjust my bandanna.

“Theif,” the driver says smiling, motioning for me to pass the handle back.

“That’s a lie,” I say, “It was a present.”

Two old men chuckle and a young woman smiles at me shyly. Someone asks what I said. Someone else repeats it. There is more laughter and I pass the handle forward.

The passenger behind me awakens and she shifts. Everyone settles into new positions, and feeling returns to certain parts of the body. I am less uncomfortable. 165 kilometers to Kankan.